Brainpower Pool

3 minute read

General Motors men wander freely in Ford’s Willow Run; Ford men consult Chrysler men; Chrysler men lunch over blueprints with G.M. men; back-alley machine-shop men ask big-company engineers for help—and get it.

Today, in the interests of war, the traditionally competitive automobile business is displaying a capacity for teamwork undreamed of by the rough, tough pioneers who pounded the old Pontchartrain Bar. Today, the only secrets in Detroit are war secrets. Competitors share experience, swap tools, ideas and even skilled men to roll out production faster. In September they awed a British aircraft mission by agreeing to swap know-how across the Atlantic.

Machinery for the new cooperation is provided by the industry’s own Automotive Council for War Production (Automotive Council for Air Defense, until Pearl Harbor)—since committees of tool-wise master mechanics, production men from the various companies solve day-today problems right in each other’s shops.

Is rubber scarce for padding a tank? Try felt or fabric.

Here’s a gadget for that job we worked out, take it, use it this way.

Hard to get bronze? We sold the Army on using this substitute.

The Council works closely with the industry’s War Engineering Board, which tackles the larger problems of methods and materials. To save welding, Fisher engineers worked out a system for bending tank armor on the presses that used to stamp out auto bodies, promptly offered it to Chrysler and Ford. G.M. had to make its own machines to bore turrets, so it made some for Ford and Chrysler too. Ford developed a new, better compound for molding ignition parts, which Pratt & Whitney now uses. “Liquid forging,” a Ford casting method, releases forging equipment for other work, saves large amounts of metal.

No supplier is too small to get help: a one-man shop can often get the machine it needs through the Council’s cross index of Detroit tools and equipment, can get advice on simplifying its operations from the best brains in the business. No problem is too big, nor is even Army red tape always sacred: when tank production slowed from scarcity of the alloy steels specified, Ordnance accepted substitutes recommended by the automotive engineers, had so much confidence in their judgment that it skipped the usual delaying tests on Army proving grounds.

Last week Detroit and the Automotive Council celebrated the second anniversary of cooperation for war production. It was a far cry from the day, two years ago, when William S. Knudsen, as National Defense Advisory Commission head, begged his fellow automakers to take on $500,000,000 (25%) of the nation’s first big bomber program. When Big Bill (now Lieut. General) Knudsen got to Detroit again last week, it was hammering away at a $15 billion backlog, had pushed its war production rate to $6 billion a year, 70% above its peacetime peak.

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